It was the love of being outdoors that first lured Ted Henderson into law enforcement back in 1973. After more than 37 years, Ted decided it was once again time for a change.
“I just retired from law enforcement, I didn’t completely retire,” Ted smiles.
His career began in the same area where his life began, Gage County. It was an unexpected job offer, which he decided to accept, that changed his life.
After graduating from high school in Wymore, in southeastern Nebraska, Ted attended a junior college in Fairbury for a couple of years before landing a job with the Kinney Shoe Corporation. He eventually managed stores in downtown Omaha, Newton and Des Moines.
Memorial Day weekend, 1973, Ted and his bride of nearly a year, Kathy, went back home for a camping trip with Ted’s parents. Kathy was a native of Gage County as well, so the couple visited there often.
Ted’s brother was working as a Gage County Deputy at the time, and his boss, the Sheriff, paid a visit to the family at the lake over the weekend. During his visit, the Sheriff offered Ted a job as a dispatcher/jailer in the Gage County Sheriff’s Office. Ted accepted.
Ted says he took the job for two reasons - to get back home, and to be able to have more time doing the things he loved to do, hunt and fish. After working one year at the Sheriff’s Office he was appointed Deputy, a position he held for nine years.
When the Gage County Sheriff retired in 1983, Ted decided to run for the office and won. He was the Sheriff from 1983-1987.
“A retired NSP trooper ran against me in the next election and beat me,” Ted now laughs.
Ted and Kathy and their two children, Kim and Chris, relocated to North Platte where Ted was a deputy for the Lincoln County Sheriff’s Office. Two years later Custer County Sheriff Neal Fink passed away, Feb. 14, 1989, and Ted applied with the county board to fulfill the final year of Fink’s term.
At the end of that year Ted ran for re-election, and won, which he continued to do for the next 20 years. His actual service as Custer County Sheriff was from April 1, 1989, to Jan. 5, 2011.
During his years in law enforcement Ted says he has seen some changes in the types and levels of crimes. Perhaps the biggest change, he says, has been in the area of drugs and drug related crimes.
“Back in the 70s when I started we saw mostly marijuana,” says Ted. “Then we started seeing more cocaine and crack, and a lot of methamphetamine.”
Perhaps surprisingly, Ted noted a decrease in the number of burglaries and break ins, which he credits at least in part to the increased technology and use of video surveillance equipment in businesses. However, the theft of particular items such as copper wiring saw a dramatic increase, which Ted attributes to the drug market.
While Ted enjoys solving the crime and catching the bad guy, he says his greatest enjoyment comes in being able to help people.
“Being the victim of a crime - like having your house or business broken in to and your personal property stolen - can be a traumatic experience for a lot of people. Being able to investigate those cases and retrieve people’s property, as well as see the criminal brought to justice, is rewarding,” says Ted.
“But law enforcement isn’t just the investigative stuff,” he continues. “It is also providing a presence in the community which serves as a deterrent to crime. It is not all reactive, it can be proactive as well. And that is a positive thing.”
He emphasizes the importance of his deputies in maintaining that proactive presence, and wants to acknowledge them for the fine work they do in Custer County. In fact, he will even go so far as to say he believes it is the hard work of his deputies that has won him so many re-elections.
“A Sheriff is only as good as his deputies,” he says.
Ted says he plans to just take a few months off to enjoy his family - Kim and Chris both live nearby, and between them have five girls. He will also use the time to try to figure out what he wants to do next. He is looking forward to the warmer weather and getting in a little time at the fishing hole.
“I’m not opposed to finding another job - but it will have to be in Custer County, ‘cause I’m not moving. I love it here!”